With about 70 percent of employees working remotely at least one day a week and a little more than half working remotely for multiple days, it’s easy to see why virtual teams play such a prominent role in today’s workplace. As organizations look for new ways to gain a competitive edge, many of them are turning to virtual teams in the hopes of leveraging their existing resources.
While this is an excellent plan for some companies, virtual teams are a strategy like any other, meaning that they aren’t automatically a great choice for every organization. Before implementing these teams and embracing the virtual workplace, companies should consider why they’re going virtual and assess whether or not they’re in a position to make that transition effectively.
Here Are a Few Reasons Virtual Teams May be Right for your Organization
One of the biggest advantages of virtual teams is that they are generally less expensive to implement and maintain. Since virtual employees work off site, companies can save on overhead costs like office space, utilities, and equipment. This is especially valuable for small companies that might not be able to afford the substantial operating costs that come with maintaining a physical office large enough to house every employee.
The reduced costs of virtual teams also allows organizations to scale rapidly in ways that might not be possible if they relied solely upon in-person employees. Adding new remote employees is faster, easier, and less expensive than bringing a new person into a physical workplace. For businesses that expect to undergo rapid growth in the future, incorporating virtual employees allows them to meet demands without having to make a significant capital investment in expanding infrastructure.
For some organizations, the flexibility of virtual teams is crucial to succeeding in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. These companies may already have employees scattered across multiple time zones, countries, or states. Implementing virtual teams makes it possible to bring these employees together so they can work toward a common goal.
For employees, working remotely provides excellent work-life balance. With the ability to set their own schedules, they can tend to pressing personal issues and appointments while still putting in the necessary time to complete their work.This flexibility can significantly boost retention rates within an organization because employees don’t feel like they’re constantly being forced to choose between their personal responsibilities and their work responsibilities.
Although research on virtual employee productivity is a bit scattered due to high degrees of variation across industries, there is a substantial body of data suggesting that individual employees are more productive when working remotely. Some of these productivity gains are due to a lower absenteeism rate. Remote employees are not only less likely to call out sick, but they’re also more likely to continue working even when they are sick or on vacation. In fact, studies have even shown that these employees work five to seven more hours per week than in-office employees and are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs than people working in a traditional office.
One of the major challenges organizations face when it comes to hiring is the dynamics of the local talent pool. For a company in a large city, hiring a qualified candidate may be easy, but many companies in less developed areas often struggle to find the talent they need to meet their business needs. By going virtual, they gain the ability to hire candidates from anywhere and incorporate them into their existing teams without requiring anyone to relocate. For organizations trying to compete in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, the ability to seek out talent anywhere rather than waiting for it to literally come to them allows them to find the best possible candidates to fill vital positions.
Here are a Few Reasons Why Virtual Teams May Not be Right for your Organization
Managing virtual teams can be a quite a logistical challenge. With team members working in different locations or time zones, good communication is critical to success. Simply relying on communication channels like email or phone calls will likely result in important information being overlooked, ignored, or never delivered in the first place. Technology solutions like project management software, video conferencing, and workplace productivity applications are vital to making virtual teams operate effectively, ensuring that team members are able to stay on task and communicate important information quickly.
Some organizations may not be prepared to make an investment in these tools. Most of them require ongoing licenses that must be periodically renewed and sometimes require IT maintenance. Since more than one solution will likely be necessary to get the most out of virtual teams, the up-front costs of this technology infrastructure may be deemed too high.
Even if virtual employees are very dedicated and driven, organizations still need to monitor their work to get a sense of their productivity and efficiency. Gathering data on in-person employees for a performance review is relatively easy, but virtual employees are a bit harder to assess. If an organization doesn’t have comprehensive assessment systems in place specifically for virtual employees, they may have difficulty determining which virtual team members are effective and which ones need improvement.
While most virtual employees tend to be productive, they constantly struggle with the fact that they’re isolated from other team members. Without frequent contact and interaction, virtual team members may find it difficult to build the relationships required to collaborate effectively, making them less likely to develop innovative solutions to problems. Too much isolation makes it difficult for team members to create the foundations of trust that are so vital for team success. To combat this challenge, organizations need to take deliberate actions when forming virtual teams to make sure that team members know and feel comfortable with their teammates. This may require some team building efforts above and beyond what might be necessary for in-person teams, which have the advantage of interacting on a daily basis. Team leaders should be deliberate and proactive about creating opportunities for team members to interact and make up for the lack of proximity that allows for impromptu and spontaneous interactions.
Virtual teams are not a cure-all for every organization. Some companies will benefit from them more than others and have an easier time implementing them effectively. While they are certainly here to stay and are becoming more common, not every organization may be able to capitalize on the advantages of virtual teams just yet.